LYONS, JACOB (1844–1916). Jacob Lyons, also known as Jacob Larne, an early African-American military and community leader, was born into slavery on the Mapp Plantation in Northampton County, Virginia, on September 10, 1844. The names of his parents are not known. At Baltimore, Maryland, on September 10, 1863, Lyons enlisted as Pvt. Jacob Larne in Company I, 2nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Volunteer Infantry, and served in Key West, Florida, during the Civil War. According to Lyons’s own account on a military pension application, his last name had been wrongly recorded as Larne when he enlisted. Returning to Virginia after his honorable discharge on January 5, 1866, Lyons obtained employment at Fort Madison near his home. He soon moved to New Orleans, but by 1877 Lyons lived as a porter in San Antonio. There he married Eliza Richardson on April 15, 1880.
On June 26, 1883, Lyons received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Excelsior Guards, an African American militia company that was recognized by the state on July 25, 1883, as Company A, First Colored Infantry Regiment, Texas Volunteer Guard. In 1884 Lyons served as one of the three principals for the company’s bond guarantee for its state-issued guns, ammunition, and uniforms. In 1885, when twenty companies failed inspections conducted by the Texas State Adjutant General, the First Colored Infantry Regiment was reduced to a battalion of only five companies.
Two years later, on January 10, 1887, Lyons, by then commissioned as a major, took command of the battalion of colored infantry. He immediately sought permission from the adjutant general to expand the battalion back to its original strength as a regiment and recommended prominent African Americans, such as Norris Wright Cuney, to be placed on his staff. The companies that comprised the battalion could always be found participating in annual Emancipation Day and Memorial Day celebrations in their local communities. Lyons, throughout his tenure as commanding officer, was instrumental in organizing training camps, pressing the state for more support, and obtaining recognition for the battalion. Due to his negotiating free transportation from the railroads, some limited funding from the state of Texas, as well as equipment and instructors from the U. S. Army, encampments for the black troops under his command took place at San Pedro Springs in San Antonio from 1889 through 1891 and at Camp Mabry in Austin in 1892. Naming the training camps in 1890 and 1891 in honor of Crispus Attucks and Andre Cailloux, Lyons recognized the contributions and sacrifices of African American military heroes. Each encampment commenced with a grand street parade, and in 1890 nearly 200 African-American men in uniform and under arms marched through downtown San Antonio. On the last day of the Austin camp in 1892, the staff and officers of the battalion, led by Lyons, forwarded to Governor James S. Hogg a petition requesting “a liberal encouragement of an increase in the number of companies…from hundreds of good and trusty men, who stand ready and willing to comply with every requirement of the law.” As the encampment was ending, Lyons, citing a desire to provide advancement opportunities for other officers of the battalion, resigned and George W. Wilson of Galveston took command.
No doubt frustrated with the state’s treatment of its African-American volunteers at the time, Lyons’s deteriorating health might have also contributed to his decision to resign. Suffering from rheumatism, Lyons began to have problems with his feet. Years before, when he returned to Virginia aboard a sailing ship in the winter of 1865–66, Lyons, due to overcrowding, had to remain exposed overnight in freezing temperatures, and his feet had suffered frostbite. Whatever the state of his health, Lyons, with four other prominent black citizens from San Antonio, called upon Governor Charles Culberson in 1898 to recognize a black regiment if a third call for troops was made for the war with Spain. Lyons also, supported by recommendations from Judge Robert B. Green and Carlos Bee of San Antonio, requested a commission from the United States Adjutant General on October 10, 1899. He failed to obtain that commission; however, on July 17, 1900, Lyons regained his commission as a major and the command of the battalion of African-American troops.
Serving until his second resignation on July 16, 1901, Lyons moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for several U. S. government facilities. His health continued to deteriorate, and he suffered a stroke in the summer of 1907 and lost the use of his right side. Lyons moved in and out of several care facilities and died at the Soldier’s Home at Hampton, Virginia, on December 9, 1916. Three days later he was laid to rest at the Columbian Harmony Cemetery in Washington, D.C. When the city relocated this cemetery by the 1960s to build a metro station, the remains of Lyons and his wife Eliza were reinterred at the National Harmony Memorial Park in Hyattsville, Maryland, where they remain today in an unmarked grave.
Austin Daily Statesman, August 28, 1892. John Patrick Blair, African American Citizen Soldiers in Galveston and San Antonio, Texas, 1880–1906 (M.A. thesis, Texas A&M University, 2007). Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Veterans Who Served in the Army and Navy Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain (“Civil War and Later Survivors’ Certificates”), 1861–1934, National Archives, Washington, D.C. Paul E. Sluby, Sr., comp., Records of the Columbian Harmony Cemetery, Washington, D.C., Vol. 6, 1912–1931 (Washington, D.C.: Columbian Harmony Society, 1993). Soldier’s Certificate No. 1,058,006, Jacob Larne (alias Jacob Lyons), Private, Company I, 2nd Infantry, U. S. Colored Troops.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.John P. Blair, "LYONS, JACOB," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fly11), accessed April 16, 2014. Uploaded on February 20, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.